Detroit Lions: 6 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
The Detroit Lions aren't counting on significant spikes in action from many players in the 2014 NFL season. Most of the starting lineup is returning, and the team filled the holes with some free agents who are expected to start.
Still, a few players are in line to see bigger roles in the fall.
Most are from the 2013 rookie class, and that's no surprise. Detroit carefully and artfully built strong depth with an excellent rookie haul.
Now it's time for many of those youngsters to take a step forward, just as Joique Bell, Kris Durham and Riley Reiff did a year ago.
Here are six Lions whose roles figure to expand in 2014.
Cornerback Darius Slay is one player the Lions are really counting on to make a big jump from 2013 to '14.
Slay was forced back into action thanks to some injuries, and he responded well. As PFF noted, he improved in coverage; in his final two games, Slay notched his two highest scores of the season.
This offseason, Slay has been working under Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson. Kyle Meinke of MLive reports that Woodson finds Slay "affable and inquisitive," two traits that do portend growth as a player.
With Rashean Mathis now gone, Slay assumes the starting right corner role once again. This time, he should be able to hold onto it full-time.
Had the Lions not brought back Brandon Pettigrew, there was no question that Joseph Fauria was going to be the featured tight end.
Even with the erstwhile starter back in the den, Fauria's role figures to expand. As Dave Richard of CBS Sports quoted new head coach Jim Caldwell:
Do I think that he's one of those guys you can put in a bunch of point-of-attack runs and heavy run-oriented situations? I think you're misusing him in terms of his talent level. I mean the guy is athletic, he can run, he can jump, and to take him and pidgeon hole him into one area, I think, would be unfair. I do think he's talented enough to play on every down.
The rookie showed his every-down promise in the final weeks, taking over the full-time role when Pettigrew went down with an injury.
With a full offseason to put in work, and a better understanding of what he needs to work on to succeed in the NFL, Fauria is poised to do a lot more than his red-zone magic of a year ago.
Devin Taylor's increased role began late in his 2013 rookie season. After scraping by with a few snaps per game early on, the towering defensive end saw more consistent action late in the year.
Through the first eight games, Taylor was on the field for just 94 defensive snaps, per PFF. In the final eight, he played 214, including his only two starts.
With Willie Young now in Chicago, Taylor is in line to inherit his role as the left defensive end rotating with Jason Jones. Young wound up starting most of the season due to Jones' knee injury.
At minimum, Taylor figures to compete with Jones for the starting role, as noted by MLive's Kyle Meinke. Newcomer Darryl Tapp could factor in as well.
Taylor offers the promise of youth and his outstanding length. Other than a brief and dismal outing versus Tampa Bay (just 12 snaps), PFF charted him with at least one QB hurry in each of the final eight contests.
Even if he loses out on the starting gig to Jones, look for Taylor to see his snap counts increase to at least 30 per game in his second season.
I'll admit this right up front, folks: I sincerely hope I'm proven wrong in the end on this one.
Yet right now, Kellen Moore is one Matthew Stafford twisted ankle or concussion away from being the starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions.
This could change between now and September, of course. In fact, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press offers some hope for those who are scared to death of the weak-armed Moore climbing the depth chart to the No. 2 quarterback.
Moore has shown improvement, to be fair. Still, his inadequate arm strength and size—chronicled expertly by Bleacher Report's Alen Dumonjic in this scouting report— greatly limit his upside and effectiveness in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's passing attack.
NFL.com's Kevin Patra broke down the similarities to expect in the new offense. Those are tailored to Stafford's rifle, not Moore's pop-gun.
Nevertheless, as it stands today, Kellen Moore has moved up the depth chart from third to second at quarterback.
Many people desperately want the Lions to upgrade the cornerback position. It's the war cry of every Internet message board and comment section for the last few years.
Along with Slay, the Lions do have some potential to improve from within. Third-year corner Chris Greenwood has a real opportunity to prove he can be a bigger part of the solution.
Although he's done little with them in his first two campaigns, the Albion product has a lot of desirable physical traits. At 6'1" and 193 pounds, he's got the size to tantalize.
His 4.41 40-yard dash, 43" vertical and 11'2" broad jump from his 2012 pro day display his incredible athleticism.
Unfortunately, his game was very raw. In fact, he showed so little progress that the Lions waived him just before last season started, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
However, after a brief stint in Dallas, it appears Greenwood returned a new man. Finally active for the final two games in 2013, Greenwood earned a plus-2.3 rating from PFF in 67 snaps. That blows away the likes of Chris Houston, Jonte Green or Bill Bentley.
It's that sort of promise that lends hope that the rangy former fifth-rounder can help solve some of Detroit's chronic secondary issues.
One of two things is likely to happen with Greenwood going forward. He's either going to make a big jump and earn the third corner spot, or else he'll no longer be a Detroit Lion come September.
As a sixth-round rookie, running back Theo Riddick barely saw any meaningful action in 2013. Pro Football Focus counted just 49 snaps for the Notre Dame product.
That could change in 2014.
If the recent New Orleans offenses under Joe Lombardi are any guide, the third-string running back role is going to expand.
Here's the snap counts at running back and fullback from the last two seasons for the Saints, all courtesy of Pro Football Focus:
The fifth back on the depth chart got more snaps than Riddick did as the third back in Detroit last year.
It doesn't hurt Riddick's case that he has many similarities to starter Reggie Bush, as noted by Akeem Glaspie of the Oakland Press last summer.
Given Bush's history of missing time with various ailments—he's missed at least two games in five of the last seven seasons—Riddick was probably in line for more action even before the offensive change. Now, he could see even more of an increase.